Michael Clarke made a hundred, and Shane Watson did not. In Australian cricket terms, this was as night follows day. Clarke validated what is said of him just now, that he could make a century on one leg. This was his fifth of the most replete year of any Australian. His score, 106, was also his average, achieved previously in a calendar year only by Bradman, Sobers and Ponting.
Watson dreams of what for Clarke is now habit. In eight years, while shunting up and down Australia's batting order, he has made just two centuries. On Thursday, against a limited and patched-up Sri Lankan attack, on a plumb batting pitch, from a dominant position, a third begged. But after 4½ vigilant hours, he walked knowingly into a trap, and was caught at deep mid-wicket for 83. Between him and Clarke, there was nothing, and a gulf. The crowd knew it. Clarke exited to a hearty, standing ovation, Watson to wistful applause.
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Clarke makes light of latest record
Australian captain, Michael Clarke, passes yet another milestone, as Australia takes a big lead over Sri Lanka after day two of the second Test in Melbourne.
In the context of the match, it did not matter. Between them, Clarke and Watson covered off on Sri Lanka's first innings score. Their partnership was a record for the fourth wicket by any country on the MCG. It was a self-contained feat. Augmented later by Mitch Johnson's blithe, unbeaten 73, it so fortified Australia's position that victory is assured. Time is immaterial.
But as Australia begins to turn its gaze towards daunting assignments next year in India and England, and its batting order remains fluid and, at the top, brittle, and since Watson and Clarke began together on zero, a qualitative comparison is impossible to avoid.
Clarke fashioned an innings, Watson hit the ball hard and often, and waited for an innings to develop. Clarke worked, Watson laboured. Clarke demonstrated complete mastery of his own game. Watson demonstrated consciousness of his own power but also fear that he would crash.
At times, the distinction was as subtle as between a groove and a rut. Watson did play some splendid shots - he blocked spinner Rangana Herath for six - and was a fortress defensively. Clarke sometimes faltered and felt.
But these were departures from the rule. Mostly, Clarke was the force of nature he has become since assuming the captaincy, beyond containment. Watson was a piece of engineering, finely machined with a single purpose. He drove repeatedly, pulled periodically but rarely cut, and against the spinners was crease bound. Clarke ranged up and down his repertoire, and out of his crease as a matter of course to Herath, but - hobbled as he was - not between wickets with his usual alacrity.
This made for more plodding progress than might have been expected against the pinched Sri Lankans. Their best bowler was a left-arm spinner, generally not the overbearing type. Herath has the shape, disposition and athleticism of a railway clerk. His bowling asks the same question over and over but in a different form each time. By these wiles, he is this calendar year's wicket-taking best. But he was betrayed this day: five chances were missed, and he finished wicketless.
The new ball did for Clarke, Watson and Matt Wade in speedy succession. But Johnson batted out the day with aplomb, and with some tail-end forbearance on Friday well might make the century that eluded Watson. In that case, they would have two each.
Nearly 40,000 came, a gratifying number, but all too predictably, the last session in the outer became a beery free-for-all. The piggishness of some, combined with a strong breeze, meant the arena began to resemble a backyard on Christmas afternoon, strewn with paper waste. If this was schoolies, there would be outrage but, for supposed adults at the MCG, there were only titters and resigned shrugs. This was one return of the good old days that cricket did not need.